The adjective 'utilitarian' - pronounced with the stress on the fourth syllable you-ti-li-TAIR-i-ern, IPA: /juːˌtɪlɪˈtɛərɪən/ - is used in two different ways. It may mean:
- 'useful or practical (rather than aesthetically attractive), or designed for use rather than beauty'. For example, a strange-looking but useful household gadget might be described as utilitarian, or we might say of it 'From an aesthetic point of view it cannot be rated highly, but from a utilitarian point of view it has a good deal to recommend it'; or
- 'of or relating to the philosophical doctrine of utilitarianism', i.e., the doctrine particularly associated with the English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1812) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), who held that 'the foundation of morals <is> ... the Greatest Happiness Principle' , i.e., that the moral rightness or wrongness of an action depends solely on its effect on the general happiness, and that 'actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness <and> wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness' (J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism (1863, Ch II)).
The word 'utilitarian' may also be used as a noun meaning 'a person who believes in utilitarianism'. Bentham and Mill, for example, could be said to be utilitarians.
- Etymological note: The word 'utilitarian' derives from the Latin noun utilitas, which means 'usefulness'. Utilitas comes in turn from the verb utor 'to use'.